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Turkey: Russian Missiles

Volume 799: debated on Thursday 18 July 2019


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what discussions they have had with the government of Turkey about that government’s purchase of surface-to-air missiles from Russia.

My Lords, we have raised our concerns about the Turkish Government’s purchase of S-400 missiles at ministerial and official level. Turkey is a valued NATO ally on the front line of some of the alliance’s most difficult security challenges. Defence equipment procurement decisions are for national Governments, but all NATO allies have committed to reducing their dependence on Russian-sourced military equipment. We will continue to discuss our concerns with Turkey as a friend and ally.

I thank the Minister for his Answer. This is extremely worrying for NATO. There are real issues with the YPG and with the relationship between the US and Turkey, but I will focus on a military point. The S-400 is a very capable surface-to-air missile system. It demands the input of special IFF settings in aircraft, as well as other features, so that you do not shoot down friendly aircraft. Russian technicians will be in Turkey, getting these settings. We do not wish to give them these factors of our own aircraft. Therefore, does the Minister not think that it is absolutely correct that the Americans should say, “You will no longer be part of the F35 programme”? If that is the case—and I think it is right that they should do this—I hope that we are lobbying to see whether we can get that work in this country, to add to the 15% of the build that we already have of all F35s in the world.

My Lords, I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord West. He described the situation in Turkey as very worrying. This is why, of course, Turkey is now being excluded from the F35 programme, both as a partner in its manufacture and as an end user. The concerns raised by the noble Lord about mixed information, and the S-400 system and the F35 which counter each other, are very worrying indeed.

My Lords, the Minister stressed the importance of Turkey as an ally and a valued member of NATO. One of the diplomatic issues may be the response of the United States. Have there been any discussions with the US Administration about further possible action they may take, including sanctions against Turkey, which will have a detrimental effect on building positive relations?

My Lords, I am not aware of exact discussions that the department has had on the sanctions issue. We are not imposing sanctions on Turkey but, at the start of the delivery of the S-400s, America is expected to trigger measures under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act. The severity and timeline of imposing those measures is still being debated.

My Lords, does the noble Earl accept that the political implications of this matter are just as important as the military? Does he recall that Mr Putin has twin foreign policy objectives? The first is the undermining of the European Union—with which he has had some assistance from the United Kingdom. The second is the destabilisation of NATO. The difficulty is that the United States has only recently offered Turkey the Patriot system, while Turkey has bought the S-400. The fact is that Mr Putin will not be laughing up his sleeve in the Kremlin—he will be laughing out loud.

The noble Lord makes a number of points, including in relation to the Patriot weapons system, on which Turkey felt unable to continue negotiations. But the noble Lord’s points in relation to Russia are very worrying, and something about which we have great concern.

As our NATO ally, has Turkey indicated whether it will share information with us and other NATO nations about this Russian missile system?

I have no information on that at present. The noble and gallant Lord makes a valid point on the worry about the systems that the Turkish military is taking up. The S-400 is a flagship weapon system designed to counter stealth aircraft. It will deny large swathes of territory to enemy aircraft, and this is a worrying position.

This is a challenge for the whole of NATO. Have HMG discussed with the American authorities the decision to block F-35 supplies? It raises fundamental questions about whether Turkey can remain in the alliance and, if it does not, how we can reconfigure to meet the new challenges, which are becoming increasingly dangerous.

My noble friend makes a good point. As I said earlier, Turkey is now excluded from the F-35 programme, both as a partner in its manufacture and as an end user. The noble Lord, Lord West, also asked whether there are opportunities for BAE Systems. The MoD is considering how the suspension of Turkey from the F-35 programme will affect our costs, delivery timeline and possible opportunities.

My Lords, despite the need for a robust defence policy, should we not reduce some of the excessive anxiety about Russia? The United States’ defence budget is 10 times that of Russia’s, and Russia’s defence budget is less than those of France and Britain.

The noble Lord makes a point, but we should listen to the comments of the noble Lord, Lord West, who is far more of an expert than I am on this issue. He clearly stated that this is a worrying development.

We have focused on the F-35, but we have other legacy aircraft in NATO that we still operate on our eastern flanks. Are they equally vulnerable?

The noble and gallant Lord has spoken about an area on which I do not have information but, as he is aware, we are urging our NATO allies to reduce their reliance on legacy Russian and Soviet weaponry.

Do the Government think that the decision to buy weapons from Russia is a sign that Turkey is looking east rather than west? What does that suggest for our wider relations with Turkey, particularly given that it still wants to be part of the European Union?

My Lords, there is no indication yet that that is the case. We must remember that Turkey is a valued NATO ally on the front line of some of the UK’s and the alliance’s most difficult security challenges. We pay tribute to its historic contribution in that area. We will continue to work closely with Turkey and seek together to face these challenges as they arise.